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The Multiple States 
of the Being 

Rene Guenon 






Henry D. Fohr 


Samuel D. Fohr 



Originally published in French as 
Les Etats multiples de Litre 
© Les Editions de la Maisnie 1932 
English translation © Sophia Perennis 2001. 
First English Edition 2001 
Second Impression 2004 

All rights reserved 

Series editor: James R. Wetmore 

No part of this book maybe reproduced or transmitted, 
in any form or by any means, without permission 

For information, address: 
Sophia Perennis, P.O. Box 611 
Hillsdale NY 12529 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Guenon, Rene 

[Etats multiples de l’etre. English] 

The multiple states of the being / Rene Guenon ; translated by 
Henr>" D. Fohr ; edited by Samuel D. Fohr — 2nd English ed. 

p. cm. — (Collected works of Rene Guenon) 
Includes index. 

isbn 0 900588 59 4 (pbk: alk. paper) 

ISBN 0 900588 60 8 (cloth: alk. paper) 

1 . Ontology. I. Fohr, S.D., 1943- II. Title. 
BD312.G813 2001 

111 — dc2i 2001000973 



Editorial Note xm 
Preface 1 

1 Infinity and Possibility 7 

2 Possibles and Compossibles 13 

3 Being and Non-Being 20 

4 Foundation of the Theory of the Multiple States 26 

5 Relationships of Unity and Multiplicity 31 

6 Analogous Considerations drawn from the Study 

of the Dream State 35 

7 The Possibilities of Individual Consciousness 41 

8 Mentality as the Characteristic Element 

of Human Individuality 47 

9 The Hierarchy of Individual Faculties 53 

10 The Limits of the Indefinite 57 

11 Principles of Distinction between the States of Being 61 

12 The Two Chaoses 66 

13 The Spiritual Hierarchies 69 

14 Reply to Objections drawn from 

the Plurality of Beings 74 

15 The Realization of the Being through Knowledge 77 

16 Knowledge and Consciousness 81 

17 Necessity and Contingency 86 

18 The Metaphysical Notion of Freedom 90 
Index 97 


The past century has witnessed an erosion of earlier cultural 
values as well as a blurring of the distinctive characteristics of the 
world's traditional civilizations, giving rise to philosophic and moral 
relativism, multiculturaiism, and dangerous fundamentalist reac- 
tions. As early as the 1920s, the French metaphysician Rene Guenon 
(1886-1951) had diagnosed these tendencies and presented what he 
believed to be the only possible reconciliation of the legitimate, al- 
though apparently conflicting, demands of outward religious forms, 
exoterisms', with their essential core, ‘esoterisrn. His works are char- 
acterized by a foundational critique of the modern world coupled 
with a call for intellectual reform; a renewed examination of meta- 
physics, the traditional sciences, and symbolism, with special refer- 
ence to the ultimate unanimity of all spiritual traditions; and finally, 
a call to the work of spiritual realization. Despite their wide influ- 
ence, translation of Guenon s works into English has so far been 
piecemeal. The Sophia Perennis edition is intended to fill the urgent 
need to present them in a more authoritative and systematic form. A 
complete list of Guenons works, given in the order of their original 
publication in French, follows this note. 

The Multiple States of the Being is the companion to, and the com- 
pletion of, The Symbolism of the Cross , which, together with Man 
and His Becoming according to the Vedanta , constitute Rene Gue- 
nons great trilogy of pure metaphysics. In this work, Guenon offers 
a masterful explication of the metaphysical order and its multiple 
manifestations— of the divine hierarchies and what has been called 
the Great Chain of Being— and in so doing demonstrates how jhana, 
intellective or intrinsic knowledge of what is, and of That which is 
Beyond what is, is a Way of Liberation. Guenon the metaphysical 
social critic, master of arcane symbolism, comparative religionist, 
researcher of ancient mysteries and secret histories, summoner to 


spiritual renewal, herald of the end days, disappears here. Reality 

Guenon often uses words or expressions set off in ‘scare quotes’ 
To avoid clutter, single quotation marks have been used throughout. 
As for transliterations, Guenon was more concerned with phonetic 
fidelity than academic usage. The system adopted here reflects the 
views of scholars familiar both with the languages and Guenon s 
writings. Brackets indicate editorial insertions, or, within citations, 
Guenons additions. Wherever possible, references have been up- 
dated, and English editions substituted. 

The present translation is based on the work of Henry Fohr, 
edited by his son Samuel Fohr. The text was checked for accuracy 
and further revised by Marie Hansen. For help with selected chap- 
ters and proofreading thanks go to John Champoux, and, for final 
reviews, to John Herlihy and Allan Dewar. A special debt of thanks 
is owed to Cecil Bethell, who revised and proofread the text at sev- 
eral stages and provided the index, and to Prof. Jocelyn Godwin, 
who generously put his earlier (1984) translation at our disposal for 
purposes of comparison. Cover design by Michael Buchino and 
Gray Henry, based on a drawing of a knot-motif by Guenons friend 
and collaborator Ananda K. Coomaraswamy 


Introduction to the Study 
of the Hindu Doctrines ( 1921 ) 

Theosophy; History of 
a Pseudo -Religion ( 1921 ) 

The Spiritist Fallacy ( 1923 ) 

East and West ( 1924 ) 

Man and His Becoming 
according to the Vedanta ( 1925 ) 

The Esoterism of Dante ( 1925 ) 

The Crisis of the Modern World 


The King of the World ( 1927 ) 

Spiritual Au thority and 
Temporal Power ( 1929 ) 

The Symbolism of the Cross ( 1931 ) 

The Multiple States of the Being 

The Reign of Quantity and 
the Signs of the Times ( 1945 ) 

Perspectives on Initiation ( 1946 ) 

The Great Triad ( 194 6 ) 

The Metaphysical Principles of 
the Infinitesimal Calculus ( 1946 ) 

Initiation and Spiritual 
Realization ( 1952 ) 

Insights into Christian 
Esoterism ( 1954 ) 

Symbols of Sacred Science ( 1962 ) 

Studies in Freemasonry 
and the Compagnonnage ( 1964 ) 

Studies in Hinduism ( 1966 ) 

Traditional Forms and Cosmic 
Cycles ( 1970 ) 

Insights into Islamic Esoterism 
and Taoism ( 1973 ) 

Reviews ( 1973 ) 

Miscellanea ( 19 76 ) 


In our preceding study, The Symbolism of the Cross , we set forth a 
geometrical representation of the being based entirely on the meta- 
physical theory of the multiple states according to the data fur- 
nished by the different traditional doctrines. The present volume 
will form a sort of complement to the earlier study, for the informa- 
tion given there was perhaps not sufficient to bring out the full 
range of this altogether fundamental theory; indeed, at that time we 
had to limit ourselves to what related most directly to the clearly- 
defined goal we had set ourselves. That is why, setting aside the 
symbolic representation already described, or at most only referring 
to it incidentally as need arises, we devote this new work entirely to 
an ampler development of the theory in question, both— and above 
all-in its very principles and in certain of its applications as they 
concern the being more particularly in its human aspect. 

Regarding this last point, it is perhaps not useless to recall from 
the outset that the fact of our pausing to consider matters of this 
order in no way implies that the human state occupies a privileged 
rank in the totality of universal Existence, or that it is metaphysi- 
cally distinguished with respect to other states by the possession of 
any prerogative whatsoever. In reality, this human state is no more 
than one state of manifestation among an indefinitude of others; in 
the hierarchy of the degrees of Existence it is situated in the place 
assigned to it by its own nature, that is, by the limiting character of 
the conditions which define it, and this place confers upon it neither 
absolute superiority nor absolute inferiority. If we must sometimes 
consider this human state in particular, it is solely because this is the 
state in which we find ourselves, and it thereby acquires for us, but 
for us alone, an especial importance; but this is only an altogether 
relative and contingent point of view belonging to the individuals 
that we are in our present mode of manifestation. This is why, espe- 
cially in speaking of superior and inferior states, we always make 


this hierarchical division from the human point of view, for it is the 
only term of comparison directly graspable by us as individuals; and 
we must not forget that every expression is enclosed in a form and 
necessarily framed in individual mode, so much so that when we 
wish to speak of anything, even purely metaphysical truths, we can 
do so only by descending to an altogether different order— an essen- 
tially limited and relative one— in order to translate them into the 
language of human individualities. The reader will doubtless under- 
stand without difficulty all the precautions and reservations 
imposed by the inevitable imperfections of this language, which is 
so manifestly inadequate to what it must express in such a case; 
there is an obvious disproportion here, but one found equally in all 
formal representations whatsoever, including strictly symbolic rep- 
resentations, although these latter are incomparably less narrowly 
restricted than ordinary language and consequently more apt for 
the communication of transcendent truths, and so they are invari- 
ably used in all truly 'initiatic and traditional teaching . 1 Indeed, as 
we have noted time and time again, in order not to alter the truth by 
a partial, restrictive, or systematized explanation, it is always fitting 
to reserve a place for the inexpressible, that is to say for what cannot 
be enclosed in any form and in reality is, metaphysically speaking, 
the most important thing. 

While still considering the human state, if we wish to relate the 
individual point of view to the metaphysical point of view, as must 
always be done when it is a question of 'sacred science’, and not 
merely profane knowledge, it can be said that the realization of the 
total being can be accomplished taking any state at all as a base or 
point of departure, by reason of the equivalence of all contingent 
modes of existence when regarded from the standpoint of the Abso- 
lute; thus it can be accomplished from the human state as well as 
from any other, and, as we have said elsewhere, even from any 
modality of that state, which amounts to saying more particularly 

1. In this connection it is worth noting in passing that the fact that the philo- 
sophical point of view never has recourse to symbolism suffices to show up the 
exclusively ‘p r °fa ne> and altogether externa] character of its particular point of 
view, and of the mode of thought to which it corresponds. 


that it is also possible for corporeal and terrestrial man, whatever 
Westerners may think, led into error as they are about the impor- 
tance to be attributed to 'corporeity’ because of the extraordinary 
insufficiency of their conceptions concerning the constitution of the 
human being , 2 Since it is in this state that we presently find our- 
selves, it is here that we must begin if our goal is to attain metaphys- 
ical realization in any degree; and this is the essential reason for 
considering this case more particularly; but having developed these 
observations elsewhere, we shall not dwell on them further here, 
especially since our present exposition will enable us to understand 
them still better . 3 

On the other hand, to avoid all possible confusion, the reader 
must be reminded at once that when we speak of the multiple states 
of the being it is not a question of a multiplicity that is simply 
numerical, nor even more generally quantitative 5 , but rather multi- 
plicity of a 'transcendent’ or truly universal order, applicable to all 
the domains that constitute the different 'worlds’ or degrees of 
Existence considered separately or in their totality, and therefore 
outside and beyond the special domain of number and even of 
quantity in all its modes. In fact, quantity— and all the more so 
number, which is only one of its modes, namely that of discontinu- 
ous quantity— is but one of the conditions that determine certain 
states, ours among them; it could not therefore be transferred to 
other states, and still less could it be applied to the totality of states, 
which obviously escapes any such determination. That is why when 
we speak in this respect of an indefinite multitude, we should always 
be careful to observe that the indefinitude in question exceeds all 
number, and also everything to which quantity is more or less 
directly applicable, such as spatial and temporal indefinitude, which 
similarly arise only from conditions proper to our world . 4 

Yet another remark is imperative concerning our use of the word 
‘being’ itself, which, strictly speaking, can no longer be applied in its 

2 . See Man anti His Becoming according to the Vedanta [cited hereafter as Man 
and His Becoming ], chap. 23. 

3 . See The Symbolism of the Cross , chaps. 26-28, 

4 . Ibid., chap. 15. 


proper sense to certain states of non-manifestation that lie beyond 
the degree of pure Being, and which we shall discuss below. How- 
ever, the very constitution of human language obliges us to retain 
this same term in such a case for want of a more adequate one, but 
we attribute to it only the purely analogical and symbolic meaning 
without which it would be quite impossible to speak in any way of 
these matters, this providing a very clear example of the insufficien- 
cies of expression to which we have just alluded. In this way, we 
shall be able, as we have already done elsewhere, to continue speak- 
ing of the total being as simultaneously manifested in certain of its 
states and non-manifested in others, without this in any way imply- 
ing that for the latter states we must restrict ourselves to the consid- 
eration of what corresponds properly to the degree of Being . 5 

In this connection we should recall that to stop at Being and to 
consider nothing beyond it, as if in some way it were the supreme 
Principle, the most Universal of all, is one of the characteristic traits 
of certain ideas found in Western antiquity and the Middle Ages; 
and while they incontestably contain a metaphysical element not 
found in modern conceptions, they remain largely incomplete in 
this respect, and also insofar as they are presented as theories estab- 
lished for their own sakes and not in view of a corresponding effec- 
tive realization. This, of course, is not to say that there were no other 
ideas current at that time in the West; we are only referring to those 
conceptions that are generally known, and whose value and impor- 
tance have been exaggerated by those who, despite their praisewor- 
thy efforts to react against modern negations, have failed to realize 
that these are still only fairly exterior points of view, and that in civ- 
ilizations such as this, where a kind of rift has formed between two 
orders of instruction superimposed upon each other without ever 
being opposed, 'exoterism’ requires esoterisni as its necessary com- 
plement. When this esoterism is misunderstood, and the civilization 
is no longer directly attached to its superior principles by any effec- 
tive link, it is not long before it loses all its traditional character, for 
the elements of this order still subsisting in it are like a body aban- 
doned by the spirit, and consequently are henceforth powerless to 

5. Ibid, chap. 1 . 


constitute anything more than a sort of empty formalism, which is 
exactly what has occurred in the modern Western world . 6 

Having provided these few explanations, we can now enter into 
our subject itself without the delay of further preliminaries, for all 
that we have already explained elsewhere allows us to dispense with 
them in great part. We cannot in fact return indefinitely to what we 
have said in our previous works, for this would be a waste of time; if 
some repetitions should prove inevitable, we shall try to reduce 
them to what is strictly indispensable in order to understand what 
we now propose to set forth, referring the reader when necessary to 
the appropriate parts of our other works, where he will find com- 
plementary discussions or more ample developments of the ques- 
tions that we must now consider anew. The principal cause of 
difficulty in this exposition is that all these questions are more or 
less closely connected to one another, and although it is important 
to show these connections as often as possible, it is no less impor- 
tant to avoid any appearance of ‘systematization’, that is, of a limita- 
tion incompatible with the very nature of metaphysical doctrine, 
which, on the contrary, should open up to those who can compre- 
hend and ‘assent’ to it, possibilities of conception that are not only 
indefinite in number, but— and we say this with no abuse of 
language— really infinite, representing the totality of Truth itself. 

6. See East and West and The Crisis of the Modern World. 



To und erstand the doctrine of the multiplicity of the states of the 
being, it is necessary before considering anything else to return to 
the most primordial notion of all, that of metaphysical Infinity, 
envisaged in its relationship with universal Possibility. The Infinite, 
according to the etymology of the term which designates it, is that 
which has no limits; and if we are to preserve this word in its strict 
sense we must rigorously limit its use to the designation of that 
which has absolutely no limits whatsoever, excluding here every- 
thing that only escapes from certain particular limiting conditions 
while remaining subject to other limitations by virtue of its very 
nature, in which these limitations are essentially inherent— as, from 
the logical point of view which simply translates in its fashion the 
point of view that can be called ‘ontological’, are those elements 
implicated in the very definition of the things in question. As we 
have already mentioned on many occasions, these latter include 
number, space, and time, even in the most general and extended 
conceptions we can possibly form of them, which far exceed our 
ordinary notions ; 1 all of this can really only be in the domain of the 

1. It should be observed that we are careful to say ‘general' and not ‘universal 
for here it is nothing more than a question of the particular conditions of certain 
states of existence, which should suffice to show that there is no question of infinity 
since these conditions are obviously as limited as the states to which they apply, and 
which they help to define. 


indefinite. It is to this indefinitude, when it is of a quantitative order 
as in the examples just mentioned, that some people improperly 
apply the term mathematical infinity’, as if adding a fixed epithet or 
qualification to the word 'infinity' did not itself imply a contradic- 
tion pure and simple . 2 In fact, this indefinitude, proceeding from 
the finite of which it is merely an extension or a development (and 
therefore always reducible to the finite), has no common measure 
with the true Infinite, any more than an individuality, human or 
otherwise, even considered with the integrality of the indefinite pro- 
longations of which it is capable, can ever be commensurate with 
the total being . 3 This formation of the indefinite from the finite, of 
which we have a very clear example in the production of the series 
of numbers, is only possible on condition that the finite already 
contain the indefinite potentially, and even were the limits extended 
so far as to be lost to sight, so to speak— that is, to the point at which 
they escape our ordinary means of measurement— they certainly are 
not abolished thereby; by reason of the very nature of the causal 
relation it is quite obvious that the 'greater' cannot come from the 
‘lesser’, nor the Infinite from the finite. 

It cannot be otherwise when, as in the present case, we consider 
various orders of particular possibilities that are manifestly limited 
by the coexistence of other orders of possibilities, and thus limited 
by virtue of their own nature to such and such determined possibil- 
ities and no others, and not to all possibilities without restriction. If 
it were not so, the coexistence of an indefinitude of other possibili- 
ties not included in these, each of which is equally susceptible of an 
indefinite development, moreover, would be an impossibility and 

2. If we sometimes speak of a ‘metaphysical Infinite 5 in order to indicate more 
precisely that it is by no means a question of the so-called mathematical infinite, or 
other ‘counterfeits of the Infinite 5 (if we may put it so), such an expression in no 
way falls under the objection just raised, because the metaphysical order is in fact 
unlimited, so that it contains no determination but is on the contrary the affirma- 
tion of that which surpasses all determination, whereas one who says ‘mathemati- 
cal’ thereby restricts the conception in question to a particular and limited domain, 
that of quantity. 

3. See The Symbolism of the Cross , chaps. 2 6 and 30. 


thus an absurdity in the logical sense of the word . 4 The Infinite on 
the contrary, to be truly such, cannot admit of any restriction, 
which presupposes that it be absolutely unconditioned and unde- 
termined, for every determination, of whatever sort, is necessarily a 
limitation by the very fact that it must leave something outside of 
itself, namely all other equally possible determinations. Besides, 
limitation presents the character of a veritable negation; to set a 
limit is to deny to that which is limited everything that this limit 
excludes, and consequently the negation of a limit is properly the 
negation of a negation, that is to say, logically, and even mathemati- 
cally, an affirmation, so that in reality the negation of all limit is 
equivalent to total and absolute affirmation. That which has no lim- 
its is that of which nothing can be denied, and is therefore what 
contains everything, that outside of which there is nothing; and this 
idea of the Infinite, which is thus the most affirmative of all because 
it comprehends or embraces all particular affirmations whatsoever, 
can only be expressed in negative terms by reason of its absolute 
indetermination. In language, any direct affirmation is in fact nec- 
essarily a particular and determined affirmation— -the affirmation 
of something particular— whereas total and absolute affirmation is 
no particular affirmation to the exclusion of others since it implies 
them all equally; and from this it should be easy to grasp the very 
close relation this presents with universal Possibility, which in the 
same way comprehends all particular possibilities . 5 

The idea of the Infinite we have just presented 6 from the purely 
metaphysical point of view can be neither discussed nor contested, 

4 . The absurd, in the logical and mathematical sense, is that which implies con- 
tradiction; it is therefore identical with the impossible, for it is the absence of inter- 
nal contradiction that defines possibility, logically as well as ontologically. 

5 . On the use of negative terms of which the real meaning, however, is essen- 
tially affirmative, see Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines , pt. 2, chap. 8, 
and Man and His Becoming , chap. 15. 

6. We do not say ‘defined’, for it would obviously be contradictory to try to give 
a definition of the Infinite; and we have shown elsewhere that the metaphysical 
point of view itself, by reason of its universal and unlimited character, is not sus- 
ceptible of definition either ( Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines , pt. 2, 
chap. 5). 


for by the very fact that it contains nothing negative it cannot con- 
tain any contradiction— and this is all the more necessarily so, logi- 
cally speaking , 7 since it is negation that would occasion contra- 
diction . 8 If in fact one envisages the 'Whole' in the universal and 
absolute sense, it is evident that it cannot be limited in any way, for 
it could only be so in virtue of something exterior to it, and if any- 
thing were exterior to it, it would not be the ‘Whole 5 . It is important 
to observe moreover that the ‘Whole’ in this sense must not in any 
way be likened to a particular or determined whole, that is, to a 
totality composed of parts that would stand in a definite relation- 
ship to it; properly speaking, it is ‘without parts’, for these parts 
would of necessity be relative and finite and so could have no com- 
mon measure with it, and consequently no relationship with it, 
which amounts to saying that they would not exist for it , 9 and this 
suffices to show that one should not try to form any particular con- 
ception of it . 10 

What we have just said of the universal Whole in its most abso- 
lute indetermination also applies to it when it is envisaged from the 
point of view of Possibility; and in truth there is no determination 

7. \Ve must distinguish this logical necessity, which is the impossibility of a 
thing’s not being or being other than it is— and this independently of any particular 
condition— from what is called 'physical’ necessity or necessity of fact, which is 
simply the impossibility that beings and things could fail to conform to the laws of 
the world to which they belong, this latter kind of necessity consequently being 
subordinate to the conditions by which that world is defined, and which are valid 
only within the special domain concerned. 

8. Some philosophers, having rightly argued against the so-called 'mathemati- 
cal infinite’, and having exposed all the contradictions that this idea implies (con- 
tradictions that disappear moreover as soon as one recognizes that here it is only a 
matter of the indefinite), believe they have also proved thereby the impossibility of 
the metaphysical Infinite, but all that is proved by this confusion is their total igno- 
rance of what the latter implies. 

9. In other words, the finite, even if capable of indefinite extension, is always 
strictly nil with respect to the Infinite; consequently, neither any thing nor any 
being can be considered a 'part of the Infinite’, this being one of the erroneous con- 
ceptions belonging properly to 'pantheism’, for the very use of the w^ord 'part’ 
implies the existence of a definite relationship with the whole. 

10. Above all one must avoid conceiving of the universal Whole in the fashion 
of an arithmetical sum obtained by the addition of its parts taken successively, one 


here either, or at least only the minimum required to render it actu- 
ally conceivable to us, and above all expressible to some degree. As 
we have already had occasion to observe , 11 a limitation of total Pos- 
sibility is properly speaking an impossibility, since to limit it one 
would have to conceive it, and what is outside of the possible can be 
nothing but the impossible; but since an impossibility is a negation 
pure and simple, a true nothingness, it can obviously not limit any- 
thing whatsoever, from which it immediately follows that universal 
Possibility is necessarily unlimited. We must take great care, how- 
ever, to understand that this applies only to universal and total Pos- 
sibility, which is thus only what we could call an aspect of the 
Infinite, from which it is in no way and in no measure distinct; 
nothing can be outside the Infinite, for if something were, the infi- 
nite would be limited and so no longer the Infinite. The conception 
of a 'plurality of infinites 5 is absurd because these 'infinities 5 would 
mutually limit each other, and so in reality none of them would be 
infinite ; 12 when we say therefore that universal Possibility is infinite 
or unlimited, it must be understood that it is nothing other than the 
Infinite itself envisaged under a certain aspect— insofar as it is per- 
missible to say that there are aspects to the Infinite. Since the Infi- 
nite is truly 'without parts’, strictly speaking there could be no 
question of a multiplicity of aspects really and 'distinctively 5 inher- 
ing in it; in fact it is we who conceive the Infinite under this or that 
aspect because we cannot do otherwise, and even if our conception 
were not essentially limited— as it is so long as we are in an individ- 
ual state— it would necessarily have to limit itself, for to become 
expressible, it must assume a determinate form. What matters is 

by one. Besides, even where a particular whole is concerned, there are two cases to 
be distinguished from one another: a true whole is logically anterior to its parts and 
independent of them, whereas a whole conceived as logically posterior to its parts, 
of which it is merely the sum, in fact only constitutes what the Scholastic philoso- 
phers called the ens rationis , whose existence as a ‘whole’ depends on the condition 
of actually being thought of as such. The first case contains in itself a real principle 
of unity, superior to the multiplicity of its parts, whereas the second has no other 
unity than that which our thought attributes to it. 

1 1. The Symbolism of the Cross , chap. 1.4. 

12 . Ibid., chap. 24. 


that we should clearly understand whence the limitation comes and 
on what it depends, so that we attribute it only to our own imper- 
fection, or rather to that of the exterior and interior faculties cur- 
rently at our disposal as individual beings, which as such effectively 
possess only a definite and conditioned existence, and do not trans- 
fer this imperfection, which is as purely contingent and transitory 
as are the conditions to which it refers and from which it results, to 
the unlimited domain of universal Possibility itself. 

And, finally, let us add that if one speaks correlatively of the Infi- 
nite and Possibility, it is not with the intention of establishing 
between these terms a distinction which could not in fact exist, but 
rather because here the Infinite is being envisaged particularly in its 
active aspect while Possibility is its passive aspect . 13 Now whether 
we regard it as active or passive, it is always the Infinite which can- 
not be affected by these contingent points of view, and the determi- 
nations, whatever may be the principle by which they are effected, 
only exist in relation to our own conception. In short, this is what 
we have elsewhere called ‘active perfection’ ( Khien ) and ‘passive per- 
fection ( Khouen ), following the terminology of the Far-Eastern 
doctrine, perfection in its absolute sense being identical with the 
Infinite understood in all its indetermination; and as we said at the 
time, this is analogous— though to another degree and from a more 
universal point of view— to what in Being are called essence’ and 
‘substance ’. 14 For what follows it must be well understood that 
Being does not contain the whole of Possibility, and that conse- 
quently it can in no wise be identified with the Infinite; this is why 
we say that our point of view here is far more universal than that 
from which we envisage Being alone. We mention this only to avoid 
all confusion, for in what follows we shall have occasion to explain 
this point more fully. 

13 . These are the Brahma and Shakti of Hindu doctrine (see Man and His 
Becoming , chaps. 5 and 10). 

14 . See The Symbolism of the Cross , chap. 24. 




We have said that universal Possibility is unlimited, and cannot be 
anything but unlimited; to wish to conceive of it otherwise is in fact 
to condemn oneself to being unable to conceive of it at all. This is 
what makes all modern Western philosophical systems impotent 
from the metaphysical, that is, the universal, point of view, and this 
is so precisely to the extent that they are systems, as we have already 
pointed out on a number of occasions. As such, they are in fact only 
restricted and closed conceptions, which can have a certain validity 
in a relative domain by dint of some of their elements but which 
become dangerous and false as soon as, taken as a whole, they pre- 
tend to be something more, and try to pass themselves off as an 
expression of total reality. It is doubtless always legitimate, should 
one judge it necessary, to envisage certain orders of possibilities in 
particular to the exclusion of others, and this is what any science 
must do; but it is not legitimate to affirm that this is the whole of 
Possibility, and to deny everything that goes beyond the measure of 
one’s own individual comprehension which is always more or less 
limited . 1 Yet, to one degree or another, this is the essential charac- 
teristic of that systematic form which seems inherent to all modern 
Western philosophy, and this is one of the reasons why philosophi- 
cal thought in the ordinary sense of the word does not and cannot 

1. It is indeed noteworthy that every philosophical system presents itself as 
being essentially the work of one individual, contrary to the case of the traditional 
doctrines, where individualities count for nothing.